Revisiting GOP attacks on President Clinton

Some conservative pundits try to erase the history of Republican criticisms of Clinton's military actions.

Published September 25, 2006 5:10PM (EDT)

The Internet makes it much more difficult than ever before to fabricate history because virtually everything is recorded and so easily discovered. Those developments, however, did not deter Jonah Goldberg from writing this demonstrably false historical claim in National Review: "The notion that conservatives opposed Clinton as Commander-in-Chief in the pre-war on terror or in other military ventures is simply unfair ... Sure, there were some wag the dog voices -- like noted rightwing trogs [sic] Arlen Specter and Christopher Hitchens -- but generally even the most partisan Republicans supported Clinton."

It is hard to overstate how false Goldberg's claim is, as even Byron York reported, in Goldberg's own magazine, National Review (emphasis added): "Instead of striking a strong blow against terrorism, the action [launching cruise missiles at Osama bin Laden] set off a howling debate about Clinton's motives. The president ordered the action three days after appearing before the grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair, and Clinton's critics accused him of using military action to change the subject from the sex-and-perjury scandal -- the so-called 'wag the dog' strategy."

Leading GOP political figures and pundits repeatedly voiced such criticisms against Clinton:

Rep. Dick Armey, GOP majority leader: "The suspicion some people have about the president's motives in this attack [on Iraq] is itself a powerful argument for impeachment," Armey said in a statement. "After months of lies, the president has given millions of people around the world reason to doubt that he has sent Americans into battle for the right reasons."

Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y.: "It is obvious that they're (the Clinton White House) doing everything they can to postpone the vote on this impeachment in order to try to get whatever kind of leverage they can, and the American people ought to be as outraged as I am about it," Solomon said in an interview with CNN. Asked if he was accusing Clinton of playing with American lives for political expediency, Solomon said, "Whether he knows it or not, that's exactly what he's doing."

GOP Sen. Dan Coats: Coats, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, "While there is clearly much more we need to learn about this attack [on bin Laden] and why it was ordered today, given the president's personal difficulties this week, it is legitimate to question the timing of this action."

Sen. Larry Craig, U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee: "The foregoing, the premise of the recent film 'Wag the Dog,' might once have seemed farfetched. Yet it can hardly escape comment that on the very day, August 17, that President Bill Clinton is scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury to explain his possibly criminal behavior, Commander-in-Chief Bill Clinton has ordered U.S. Marines and air crews to commence several days of ground and air exercises in, yes, Albania as a warning of possible NATO intervention in next-door Kosovo ...

"Not too many years ago, it would not have entered the mind of even the worst of cynics to speculate whether any American president, whatever his political difficulties, would even consider sending U.S. military personnel into harm's way to serve his own, personal needs. But in an era when pundits openly weigh the question of whether President Clinton will (or should) tell the truth under oath not because he has a simple obligation to do so but because of the possible impact on his political 'viability' -- is it self-evident that military decisions are not affected by similar considerations? Under the circumstances, it is fair to ask to what extent the Clinton Administration has forfeited the benefit of the doubt as to the motives behind its actions."

GOP activist Paul Weyrich: "Paul Weyrich, a leading conservative activist, said Clinton's decision to bomb on the eve of the impeachment vote 'is more of an impeachable offense than anything he is being charged with in Congress.'"

Wall Street Journal editorial: "It is dangerous for an American president to launch a military strike, however justified, at a time when many will conclude he acted only out of narrow self-interest to forestall or postpone his own impeachment."

Sen. Trent Lott, GOP majority leader: "I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time," Lott said in a statement. "Both the timing and the policy are subject to question."

Rep. Gerald Solomon: "'Never underestimate a desperate president,' said a furious House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.). 'What option is left for getting impeachment off the front page and maybe even postponed? And how else to explain the sudden appearance of a backbone that has been invisible up to now?'"

Rep. Tillie Folwer: "'It [the bombing of Iraq] is certainly rather suspicious timing,' said Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Florida). 'I think the president is shameless in what he would do to stay in office.'"

Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum: "First, it [intervention in Kosovo] is a 'wag the dog' public relations ploy to involve us in a war in order to divert attention from his personal scandals (only a few of which were addressed in the Senate trial). He is again following the scenario of the 'life is truer than fiction' movie 'Wag the Dog.' The very day after his acquittal, Clinton moved quickly to 'move on' from the subject of impeachment by announcing threats to bomb and to send U.S. ground troops into the civil war in Kosovo between Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanians fighting for independence. He scheduled Americans to be part of a NATO force under non-American command."

Jim Hoagland, Washington Post: "President Clinton has indelibly associated a justified military response ... with his own wrongdoing ... Clinton has now injected the impeachment process against him into foreign policy, and vice versa."

Wall Street Journal editorial: "Perceptions that the American president is less interested in the global consequences than in taking any action that will enable him to hold onto power [are] a further demonstration that he has dangerously compromised himself in conducting the nation's affairs, and should be impeached."

Leading GOP senators, representatives, editorial boards, organizations and pundits repeatedly called into question Clinton's motives in taking military action, and thus attacked the commander in chief at exactly the time when troops were still in harm's way. The notion that such accusations were made only by a handful of isolated figures -- which Goldberg has the audacity to suggest were actually liberal -- and that the GOP largely supported Clinton's military deployments and refrained from criticizing his motives is just false. That is a fact that Goldberg would have discovered had he undertaken the most minimal amount of research before making those claims.

It is true that some Republican political figures supported some of Clinton's military decisions in Yugoslavia and the Middle East, but efforts to undermine those actions (as well as earlier ones) came from virtually every significant Republican precinct of influence throughout Clinton's presidency. That includes, most prominently, actions Clinton took against Iraq and Osama bin Laden, which were routinely attacked by Republicans as unnecessary.

The claim that Clinton paid insufficient attention to terrorism was one that virtually no Republicans made during the Clinton presidency. To the contrary, terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism were barely on their radar screen, and when they were, it was most prominently to use those issues as a weapon to attack Clinton politically and to suggest that he was deploying the military not for any legitimate reason (such as the terrorist threat) but only to distract the country's attention from the far more pressing sex scandal engulfing our government.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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